Nepal PM Oli, Opposition alliance stake claim to form govt amid uncertainty over signatures

Nepal’s political crisis took a dramatic turn on Friday as embattled Prime Minister K P Sharma Oli and the Opposition parties staked separate claims for the formation of a new government by submitting letters of support from lawmakers to the President.

Prime Minister Oli reached the President’s Office Shital Niwas and presented his list, a couple of minutes ahead of the Opposition leaders.

He submitted the letter to President Bidya Devi Bhandari, claiming support of 121 lawmakers from his own party CPN-UML and 32 lawmakers of Janata Samajbadi Party-Nepal (JSP-N) for his reappointment pursuant to Article 76(5) of the Constitution.

JSP-N president Mahantha Thakur, JSP-N Parliamentary Party leader Rajendra Mahato and Oli had signed the letter submitted to the President, CPN-UML leader Bishnu Rimal was quoted as saying in The Himalayan Times.

Earlier, Nepali Congress President Sher Bahadur Deuba claimed to have garnered the support of 149 lawmakers. Deuba, along with the leaders of Opposition parties, reached the President’s Office to stake claim for the post of prime minister.

The Opposition’s decision came after Prime Minister Oli reportedly expressed unwillingness on Thursday to undergo another floor test to prove his government’s majority in the House of Representatives.

Leaders of the Opposition alliance including the Nepali Congress (NC), CPN (Maoist Center), the Upendra Yadav-faction of Janata Samajbadi Party (JSP) and the ruling CPN-UML’s Madhav Nepal faction claimed to have the support of 149 lawmakers of the House of Representatives (HoR), said Nepali Congress senior leader Prakash Man Singh.

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The number includes 61 MPs of Nepali Congress, 48 of Maoist Center, 13 of JSP and 27 of UML. The leaders from the Opposition alliance left for the President’s official residence, to submit the signatures of 149 lawmakers recommending Sher Bahadur Deuba’s appointment as the prime minister.

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The ball is now in the court of President Bhandari. Bhandari on Friday told the Opposition alliance that she will seek advice from constitutional experts before taking a call on government formation.

She had given the political parties a deadline until 5:00 pm, Friday, to present their claim. Both Oli and Opposition leader Deuba presented their claims to the president on Friday, minutes before the 5:00 PM deadline.

However, a dispute has emerged after a few lawmakers from the Madhav Nepal faction put out statements claiming that their signatures were misused and that they did not sign any paper to install Opposition leader Deuba as the prime minister against their own party chief, the report said.

Foreign Affairs Advisor to Oli Rajan Bhattarai published one of the MP’s letters in which he claimed that his signature was misused without his knowledge.

Some leaders present at a meeting of the taskforce formed to resolve differences between the warring Oli-group and Nepal-group in the ruling party also stated that their signatures were used without their knowledge.

Oli and Janata Samajbadi Party-Nepal chair Mahanta Thakur have written to the president to not legitimise signatures of lawmakers from their respective parties that were submitted by the opposition alliance in a bid to stake claim to government.

The CPN-UML, in the letter, has stated that the 26 lawmakers that endorsed Deuba’s claim to premiership by providing their signatures, thereby going against the party code, would face stern action, and could even be sacked from the party.

The JSP-N too has asked the president to deem the 12 signatures from JSP-N leaders as illegitimate.

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Deuba, 74, is the president of the Nepali Congress and served as the prime minister of Nepal on four different occasions; first from 1995 to 1997, then from 2001 to 2002, again from 2004 to 2005, and from 2017 to 2018.

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The veteran politician currently serves as the Leader of the Opposition since the 2017 general elections. He is also the current president of the Nepali Congress, having been elected to the position in 2016.

On Thursday, the Oli government had recommended the president to initiate the formation of a new government pursuant to Article 76 (5) of the Constitution of Nepal as Prime Minister Oli was not ‘in the mood’ to withstand another floor test.

The prime minister, after his reappointment on May 10, was supposed to gather the House of Representatives’ confidence within 30 days.

It was feared that if the new government could not be formed as per Article 76 (5), Oli would invoke Article 76 (7) and recommend dissolution of the House of Representatives yet again.

Oli, who is the Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), was sworn in as Nepal’s Prime Minister as per Article 76 (3) of the Constitution on May 14, four days after he lost a crucial vote of confidence in Parliament.

The CPN-UML is the largest party with 121 seats in the 275-member House of Representatives. At present, 136 votes are needed to form a majority government. Oli was required to seek a vote of confidence in the House of Representatives within 30 days of his appointment to the post.

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Earlier on Thursday, the president’s office stated that the government had forwarded a request to invoke Article 76 (5) as Prime Minister Oli, it has been learnt, is in no mood to undergo another parliamentary floor test as there is no prospect of an otherwise result given the complex internal dynamics within parties represented in the federal parliament.

There have been differences between Oli and the senior leader of the rival faction of the party Madhav Kumar Nepal since the vote. In a temporary relief for Oli, the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to issue an interim order on the writ petitions against his controversial oath-taking and reappointment of the seven ministers who are not lawmakers.

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Four writ petitions were filed in the Supreme Court of Nepal on Monday demanding that Oli be sworn in again as he disgraced the office of the President by refusing to repeat all the words she recited during the oath-taking ceremony.

Nepal plunged into a political crisis on December 20 last year after President Bhandari dissolved the House and announced fresh elections on April 30 and May 10 at the recommendation of Prime Minister Oli, amidst a tussle for power within the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).

Oli’s move to dissolve the House sparked protests from a large section of the NCP led by his rival ‘Prachanda’. In February, the apex court reinstated the dissolved House, in a setback to Oli who was preparing for snap polls.

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